Patriarchy is the root cause of gender injustice

Shobha Shukla, CNS Columnist
(Based on an interview given to CNS by Ivy Josiah, Executive Director, Women’s Aid Organization, Malaysia, during the 2nd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum—APFF 2014-- held recently in Chiang Mai, Thailand)
The overarching challenges which women are facing in the Asia Pacific region are fundamentalism and the return of conservative politics. Religion and culture are being used to promote a particular kind of politics which is usurping women’s rights. Militarization, fundamentalism and globalization are joining forces with patriarchy to worsen the civil and political rights of women resulting in more inequality.

The existing patriarchal sexist attitude in society needs to be addressed. We have to tackle the root cause of patriarchy which is based on the way society has organised itself to allow for men to wield power over women. Of course, women in this region are in a position today where they are able to go to schools, able to join the workforce and even hold high positions of power. But whether they are working in factories, or as domestic workers, or sitting on the Boards of companies and banks, what is common to all is that patriarchal attitudes have not changed. They are still seen as subordinate to men who still own the women’s bodies and brutalize their minds. There is sexual harassment and belittling of women everywhere—at home, on the street, at the workplace. They are told that as women they are vulnerable to violence and kept in constant fear of getting raped. And yet men—the perpetrators of crimes against women—get away scot free with all their brutalities because the judicial systems do not address these issues from a gender justice perspective and conviction rates are dismally low. The control over women is propelled by making women live in fear rather than help create a safe environment for all. This is a psychological hold which men have on women and this will have to go.

Although Malaysia is led by a multiracial government, religion and racism have started raising their ugly heads there as well (as in other countries of the region). Several Malay led NGOs want the government to protect their religion of Islam and to promote the rights of only Malays. Recently the opposition party had mooted the idea of adopting the Hudood law in Malaysia and a technical committee has already been formed to look into this very scary proposition. Two states have already passed this law but cannot implement it unless the Federal government gives its nod. Hudood is a principle from the Koran, but Hudood law is a manmade law which metes out punishment for specific criminal activities. Under this law women cannot give evidence in a court and if they are raped they have to produce 4 witnesses to prove their point. Also, a non-Muslim cannot go to court either. This does not seem to be a law of justice but a law against gender and race which promotes the premise that all are not equal in front of the law.

So there is a rising conservatism for personal gains, racial gains and religious gains at the cost of women’s right to live. In the 80s the rallying cause of women’s movements was violence against women that trespassed upon their human rights. But now it is time to look at economic and development justice through the lens of gender justice. Political parties and ruling governments that do not have policies favouring gender justice must be kicked out.

The ASEAN cannot just remain an economic block but become accountable to the human rights violations that occur almost every day. Women need to hold decision making positions, enter politics, and take the lead to challenge the existing structures. In Malaysia it was two women who led a huge electoral reforms movement demanding clean and fair elections. Although the movement met with partial success only, the government clearly got the message that people want a change for the better.

It is exciting to be at a global moment in the Asia Pacific region when women are ready to face the challenges, realizing that enough is enough. This is also an exciting time because of the inter connectivity of different women’s movements in different countries of the region through social media and physical face to face meetings like the APFF. Women are also getting more organised at grassroots level and standing up for their rights. Men will have to give up the power they have to control their daughter, wife, sister and mother.  More and more women need to be at the decision making table and surely men are not going to open the doors for us. So we will have to find and put in enough resources to create more opportunities for women. It may be a long journey but our movement began a long time ago in full earnest. We just have to continue the momentum keeping letting gender justice in mind.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)
6 June 2014
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also co-authored and edited publications on gender justice, childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, and MDR-TB. Email:, website: